Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: Thousand Sons

"The book lay there thunderous in it's embodiment of the tragedy that is the Thousand Sons"

So, yeah, as you can imagine from the caption I don't really like Graham McNeill. Sure, he writes good stuff (more about that later) but he always has to use "thunderous" as an adjective. Even in the most weird places. I can still vividly remember reading one of the Ultramarines novels and stopping at the words "[…]his thunderous brow[…]" and thinking "WTF? Is he stoned when writing?". This book however, only contained thunderous in four places. Evenly dispersed through the book. I hope his editor finally caught up with the thunderous plague and put a stop to it. ;)

Spoilers might lie ahead, so I'll do this fancy page break here. Click on "read more" if you want to know more about the book, and my thoughts of it.

The book is, of course, about the Thousand Sons and how they succumbed to chaos. This story has more body to it though, compared to the book Fulgrim and the other chapters written about in the Horus Heresy series. It's not a sudden deus ex machina that sways them to Chaos (like in False Gods). But instead a gradual degeneration, that only reaches it's climax in the very end of the book.

What I really liked, was that Graham really made me as a reader, feel sorry for the Thousand Sons. They were really loyal to the Emperor, and tried to do their best, but was doomed from the beginning. So when the final blews came it felt... tragic and sad.

There's a few side stories in it too, about three remembrances that follow the Thousand Sons, which ties in well with the main arc. And actually contributes to it a great deal.

The bad things about the book is few. Sometimes it's really slow, not Descent of Angels-slow, but in order to build up to the climax Graham has to tell you a lot about the Thousand Sons background and a bit about the creation of the primarchs and stuff like that. For a fluff-buff like me it felt a bit boring, because I already know about all that stuff, but I guess it's really good information for new readers.

Sometimes I wished there were some more action in the book. There is three battles described in the book. Except for the last one, very briefly. I can understand why, delving deeper into the battles wouldn't really contribute to the main story. But I still would like to have seen some more action.

Apart from that, it's a pretty good read. If you've read classic literature you'll instantly know where the book leads. It's a lot like the old greek mythos about Icarus with a little Oidipus complex thrown in as well. But the story is interesting enough, and although the ending is already known, I still stuck with the book wanting to see [read] what happens next.

"Knowledge is power. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."


  1. Interesting. I'm about 3/5 of the way through this book at the moment, and I'm finding it really dull. I find most of McNeill's writing dull, and this is no exception.

    His use of language annoys me, and he seems to just plonk things in he thinks will be dramatic, even if they don't make sense, or just come across as being really cheap / obvious.

    It's not the lack of battles that bothers me (I though Descent of Angels was one of the better Heresy books), but the lack of a point. As usual, the characters are all depicted as behaving like stroppy teenagers with barely any intelligence.

  2. It gets a bit better / less dull, after the trial (I really hope I didn't spoil anything now). But dont expect too much.
    I guess the point of it all get's kinda clearer towards the end as well. And as a friend pointed out, perhaps this book just lays the groundwork/setting for Prospero Burns? Like Descent of Angles did for Fallen Angels.

    In the case of McNeill, I kinda like his writing in the Ultramarines series. But that's another league. The Ultramarines-books is strictly mindcandy / written for the Erectus Astartes crowd. So his way of randomly inserting dramatic words & sentences is kinda OK.

    I expect a little more from the Heresy-series since it's the cornerstone of the 40K-fluff. But I guess you can't have it all.

    Let me know what you think about the book once you've read it.

  3. I'm at the trial now. Magnus is about to give his defence. The trial is a classic example of what I'm finding so disappointing.
    Think John Grisham, think any number of TV detective stories, think '12 Angry men'. Trials can be tense and dramatic.

    But what do we get? 2 guys say 'you're bad' and then our witness at the trial, describing things to us, faints. Wow. What a mind blowing arguement the prosecution has.

    I'm not expecting it to get better!

    I'll let you know what I think when I finish, as long as I remember.

    Just on the subject of Descent of Angels: I know lots of people dislike this (slow, dull, etc) and think it's out of place (more like a fantasy book than a 40K one).

    But I thought the characters were much better developed than usual, 40K is supposed to be full of out-of-the-way places, and the story was quite poignant.

    I thought the sequel was good too.

  4. Oh, well then I don't think you'll enjoy the rest of the book. The climax is dissapointing in that way as well. Way too short and not at all as tense as it could've been.

    Descent of Angels wasn't bad. I really liked the character development, but it was kinda slow in the way that it took 3/4 of the book just talking about the monsters in the woods.

    I guess the main problem with DoA was that it would've been better if it wasn't split in two books. I felt kinda "meh" when I finished it and realized that it was more of a prequel to Fallen Angels and I had to wait for the next book to release. Had it been two books put together it would've been awesome. Since I really enjoyed Fallen Angels, and I'm not even remotely a fan of the Dark Angels. :)

  5. All right! So, I finished the book, and as (sort of) promised, I'm back to give you my thoughts!

    The book did get a bit more interesting. There were bits of the final battle that I liked. And I liked bits of the rest of the remembrancer story.

    However, overall, I think the book remained disappointing. The rest of the trial was just weird. A classic example of what I dislike about Graham McNeill: the two arguements are made (in ways that are meant to make them seem dramatic, even if it doesn't work), and then something different is the outcome. Not different in an 'interesting twist' kind of way, but different in a 'the author doesn't seem to realise where he's going with his arguements or his plot threads' sort of way.

    I thought the final battle, as with some of the other Heresy battles (Galaxy in Flames was the worst for this) was a huge missed opportunity. Instead of interesting tactics we had (again) two sides just slugging it out, competing as to who is the toughest and most macho and with the most willpower. I'm not against brutal combat, but what I would have liked is more thought, more variety. Less 'they were nearly dead so they just tried even harder'.

    I disagree with your comment about Magnus' fate not being another 'deus ex machina'. Again, McNeill seemed to be all over the place: Maguns knew what was coming, made a decision that would have a huge impact on his Legion (I'm trying not to write any spoilers here), stuck with the decision when the battle started, but then suddenly changed his mind. Not a single clue as to why.

    This rather reminded me of Horus' fall in 'False Gods': Horus there was presented with two arguements. One was by someone he knew he couldn't trust, as he worked out he was being lied to pretty quickly. The other by someone who was breaking the law, but at least being consistent with what they'd always said. I still can't see any reason as to why Horus went with the first option (seeing as he is supposed to be a brave and intelligent warrior, rather than a coward out to make any compromise to save his own skin).

    The other thing I didn't like about 'A Thousand Sons' was all of the Dan Brown-esque cod-philosophy. Again; classic Graham McNeill. All this 'we all know there's no such thing as coincidence', and laughable 'seeing complex patterns in shattered rocks' - as if this is profound rather than the worst of hippy, new-age nonsense. And worse, it again was all over the place. If you believe you can see the future, fine. But if you know there are times when your powers fail, then why don't you plan for those times? Why, when you keep being surprised by events, do you not think 'perhaps I shouldn't be so arrogant as to think I always know what's coming'? He can't seem to make his mind up as to whether the future is pre-determined or not. Some times they act as if it is, some times as if it's not.

    As you can gather... Not a big fan. There have been worse books in the series ('Galaxy in Flames', 'Flight of the Eisenstein' and the shockingly, atrociously awful 'Battle for the Abyss'). But some pretty decent / very good ones too (Horus Rising, Descent of Angels, Legion, Fallen Angels).

    Do you think I'm being fair?

  6. Sorry for the late reply. IRL and stuff came in the way. And I felt that I really had to look at your arguments and validate them properly (is that proper english?).

    It's funny, and that's why I asked you to come back once you've read the whole book, to talk about stuff with someone who has a different viewpoint than yourself.

    The trial, yes, it was in hindsight. Pretty weird. It could've been shortened down to a couple of pages or reworked to be more tense. It was essential to the plot though. But yes, I have to agree with you. It was typically McNeill.

    The final battle. Is there an example where they're really good? I'm no writer, but I think that some of the writers at Black Library just isn't up to the task of writing epic stuff like final battles.

    What I did like with the final battle was the overall differences portrayed between the "good guys" and the Thousand Sons.

    Magnus fate wasn't really a deus ex machina? Or was it? I thought/ imagined that he changed his mind because of feeling that he betrayed the Emperor and destroyed his work with the warp-webway-thingie? He destroyed it all, so what did he have left? I think I have to re-read that part actually.

    I can only agree with you that Thousand Sons, like many of the other BL books, were pretty much Dan Brownish. I really wish we could expect better out of the stories BL puts out. But it is really nothing more than pulp fiction / mind candy.
    Occasionally they put out really good stuff (I have to disagree with you regarding Flight of the Eisenstein. I really liked that one). But you/we have to take it for what it is. Mass produced stories made to sell.

    And yes, I think you're being fair. :)

  7. Hi again, I also got distracted by real life!

    Just to come back on a couple of points, if you're still interested (and realise that I've posted this).

    Magnus' fate: Magnus feels guilty after what he's done, and out of remorse decides to accept his punishment (this is why he prevents the 1000 Sons from detecting the Space Wolves approach).

    One of his warriors (I forget which) is horrified at this, and Magnus has to (regretfully) kill him to prevent him warning the others.

    But then half way through the battle, he decides to come out and fight the Space Wolves. Why? What caused him to change his mind? It makes no sense.

    Examples of combats I've enjoyed are in the books I mentioned before: Horus Rising, Descent of Angels, Fallen Angels etc. They read like battles between warriors who understand combat. They wear helmets, they use cover, they use tactics. Sure, they are heroic, but they feel somewhat plausible.

    McNeill (and other BL writers) have a tendency to describe battles between two heroes fighting each other, using hidden reserves of strength to overcome multiple fatal wounds, as if bravery and 'hollywood style' can somehow compete with the danger of a bullet in the heart(s).

    Lastly, the Eisenstein. It could have been great. Part of the problem for me is that it couldn't work out what it wanted to be. It was billed as the story of Garro and the ship, but the last section of the book (and the story of the remembrancers throughout) shows that it's really the story of the creation of the Imperial Faith.

    Either of those could have been done well (but I don't think either was). However, I did think one scene was very well done. The scene where they're finally away, lost, stranded, with no hope, systems shut off to preserve power... It's very lonely and very cold. That part was really atmospheric.

    Of course, then a certain Primarch arrived who seemed to have the emotional control of a 6 year old, but the preceding scene was good!

    I have to make a start on Nemesis soon!